The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity: Fundamental Features of a Modern Worldview: Results of Soul Observation According to the Natural-scientific Method
Written in 1894 (CW 4)
While not Rudolf Steiner’s first book, The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is the cornerstone of the thought-edifice of anthroposophically oriented spiritual science. And given the great variety of approaches to be found in its English translations (e.g., The Philosophy of Freedom and Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path), Steiner’s contention that it would also endure the farthest distance into the future seems to hold true, for great books are recognized by their ability to spark new perspectives over generations.
“The book leads at first into abstract regions where thought must draw sharp outlines in order to arrive at secure points. But the reader is led out of arid concepts into concrete life as well…. The West no longer demands any pious exercises or asceticism for science, but it does require the good will to withdraw oneself for a short time from the immediate impressions of life and enter into the sphere of the world of pure thought.” (from the introduction to the first edition)
Readers should be prepared to journey into the life of thinking, to orient themselves within it, to take stock of its characteristic features, and then to observe how it relates to the rest of world phenomena in the act of knowing. Along this path, many thinkers will be referenced. This serves both to situate the discussion within the broader philosophical conversation as well as to stand like signposts, marking the way into one’s self.
“No other human soul activity is so easily underestimated as thinking. Will and feeling—they still warm the human soul even when one experiences their original state in retrospect. Thinking all too easily leaves one cold in this retrospective experience; it seems to dry out the soul life. Yet this is simply nothing but the strongly manifesting shadow of its reality, a reality woven through with light and warmly delving into the phenomena of the world. This delving occurs with a power streaming within the activity of thinking itself—the power of love in spiritual form.” (from chapter 8)
Freiheit—the word Steiner insisted be understood as “spiritual activity” though usually translated “freedom”—emerges when that which has been won in this first-hand observation of the life within thinking and knowledge comes to expression in the world of action, that is, in the realm of ethics. Then the will, that most unconscious of human soul faculties, rises, in moral love of the deed, to the beginnings of self-consciousness, and one thus attains the possibility of becoming a being “acting out of knowledge,” a being of spiritual activity (David Ecklund, translator).
The Chadwick Library Edition is an endeavor to republish—mostly in new or thoroughly revised English translations—several written works of Rudolf Steiner. The edition is named for the late horticulturist Alan Chadwick, whose life and work has served as inspiration to the small group from which the idea originated. Our extensive experience with special bindings led to the selection—for this “trade edition” of 750 books—of a leather spine binding, cloth sides, and a light slipcase. For the hand-numbered edition (100 books), the binding is full leather with a hand-gilt top of the pages in a fine, stiff, cloth-covered slipcase. The leather is blue calfskin, and the title stamping on the spines is in genuine gold leaf. All of this will be carried out by hand at one of the finest binders, Ruggero Rigoldi.
The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity is a translation from German of Die Philosophie der Freiheit (GA 4).
C O N T E N T S:
Preface to the Revised Edition (1918)
THE SCIENCE OF SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (FREEDOM)
1. Conscious Human Action
2. The Fundamental Drive for Science
3. Thinking in the Service of Understanding the World
4. The World as Percept
5. The Act of Knowing the World
6. The Human Individuality
7. Are There Limits to Knowledge?
THE REALITY OF SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY (FREEDOM)
8. The Factors of Life
9. The Idea of Spiritual Activity (Freedom)
10. Freedom, Philosophy, and Monism
11. World Purpose and Life
12. Moral Phantasy (Darwinism and Morality)
13. The Value of Life (Pessimism and Optimism)
14. Individuality and Type
The Consequences of Monism
Appendix 1. Addendum to the Revised Edition of 1918
Appendix 2. Revised Introduction to the Edition of 1894
About the Author
Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) was born in the small village of Kraljevec, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now in Croatia), where he grew up (see right). As a young man, he lived in Weimar and Berlin, where he became a well-published scientific, literary, and philosophical scholar, known especially for his work with Goethe’s scientific writings. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he began to develop his early philosophical principles into an approach to systematic research into psychological and spiritual phenomena. Formally beginning his spiritual teaching career under the auspices of the Theosophical Society, Steiner came to use the term Anthroposophy (and spiritual science) for his philosophy, spiritual research, and findings. The influence of Steiner’s multifaceted genius has led to innovative and holistic approaches in medicine, various therapies, philosophy, religious renewal, Waldorf education, education for special needs, threefold economics, biodynamic agriculture, Goethean science, architecture, and the arts of drama, speech, and eurythmy. In 1924, Rudolf Steiner founded the General Anthroposophical Society, which today has branches throughout the world. He died in Dornach, Switzerland.